QinetiQ’s VAAC Harrier undertakes payload boosting landing trials on the French carrier Charles de Gaulle as part of a JSF-programme
QinetiQ and the MOD Joint Test and Evaluation Group, which comprise the UK Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre, are currently undertaking a series of landing trials of a short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft on to the French Navy’s Charles de Gaulle carrier, using QinetiQ’s Vectored-thrust Aircraft Advanced Control (VAAC) experimental Harrier.
Undertaken as part of the US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme on behalf of the UK MOD Joint Combat Aircraft Integrated Project Team (JCA IPT), the trials were designed to expand the limits and knowledge of ship rolling vertical landings (SRVL) as a possible aircraft recovery technique for the Royal Navy’s two projected Future Carrier (CVF) vessels.
Land based Rolling Vertical Landings (RVL) are routinely used on legacy STOVL (Harrier) aircraft, rather than vertical landings on unprepared surfaces, in order to avoid ingestion of debris into the engine. A requirement for JSF to perform land based RVLs has therefore always been a feature of the contract specification. However, the development of new RVL procedures for the F-35B aircraft, with its greater useable wing-lift at low speeds, means that either increased payloads can be returned and landed on the ship or the stress on the propulsion system can be reduced, leading to increased operational flexibility and propulsion system life.
The MOD has stated: “Consideration of the aerodynamic performance of JSF, together with the available deck area of CVF design, has shown that significant benefits could be realised by extending the principles of land based RVL to ship borne operations and the UK is keen to exploit this opportunity.”
This series of trials involves the first ever piloted evaluation of the SRVL manoeuvre onto an aircraft carrier, and comes on the back of a number of studies undertaken over the past few years into the feasibility of the SRVL concept. The MOD has also stated that the increasing maturity of this body of analysis and simulation indicates that SRVL could be performed safely by JSF on CVF although the effects of equipment failures and adverse conditions require further investigation. Work into this will continue to be undertaken by QinetiQ at the MOD’s Boscombe Down site and using VAAC simulators at its Bedford site.
“The Charles de Gaulle carrier, at around 40,000 tonnes has a similar deck size to the projected CVF vessels so made it the ideal choice for this series of trials”, stated Richard Watson, QinetiQ’s VAAC programme Manager. “As the French are likely to play a key part in the development and fabrication stages of the CVF programme it was also logical and beneficial to include them at this stage. The French team members in this trial have provided outstanding support in a challenging programme, and have been incredibly generous with their time, energy and overall contribution to the success of these test flights.”
In 2005 a world first was also achieved when a fully automatic landing of the QinetiQ VAAC Harrier was conducted on HMS Invincible. QinetiQ’s team of engineers with Royal Navy and Royal Air Force test pilots successfully demonstrated that the technology it has developed as part of its work for the Joint Strike Fighter programme could automatically bring a STOVL aircraft into land. This clearly demonstrated how exploiting advanced technology can reduce programme risk and bring real benefits for the pilots.
QinetiQ is also conducting ongoing work in maturing flight control concepts for the F-35B Lightning 2 and the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre recently completed an evaluation of advanced STOVL flight control concepts in collaboration with the JSF Program Office and test pilots from the JSF programme. This ongoing work follows the pioneering development of Unified Flight Control, a novel STOVL control concept which was adopted for the F-35B in 2002.
Unified Flight Control enables the pilot to simply command the aircraft to go faster or slower and up or down whilst the fly-by-wire control system does all the hard work. QinetiQ's autoland technology took this capability a step further and the autoland technology also opened up the door for operating Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) from ships.